Jesús Silva-Herzog Márquez
“There are corpses on the streets. A grenade goes off somewhere. A child dies as the military chase after some hawks. Killers are detained and weapons confiscated, the smell of burning meat, of dead hair. The city is like a graveyard of lost souls, a Llorona multiplied who doesn’t really have any tears because she spills them inside and no one must know, because surviving is giving up and getting used to the empire of automatic rifle barrels; that blood, that salt water, the aqueous cavities, death, the cry of rotten pain, is not printed in the papers: in their pages silence is published, perhaps an accident, the hike in product prices, and a speech by the governor”. Javier Valdez Cardenas, author of this paragraph, did not give up and, as he hinted there, he did not survive.
The Mexican tragedy has razed information, particularly the local press. The desolation of that journalism is a sign of the national devastation. Journalists do not have, of course, the privilege of pain. If I stop before the threat to journalism it is because our eyes, our understanding, is in that work. Journalists are—I say this without any sort of solemnity—the guardians of truth. Without the press, we live in the dark and without words: mute and blind. The writing of a newspaper is, somewhat, a symbol of our inhabitable jungle. Accosted by criminals and politicians (the border between one and the other is fake, in his view), tempted and hit permanently by corruption, infiltrated by spies who denounce and intimidate from within, misunderstood, abandoned to its luck, the local newspaper is Mexico. It is not only the journalist who is compelled to silence, to “tie a blind around his eyes and a pestilent rag over his mouth”. When portraying the fear and threat, bravery and treachery, helplessness and stubbornness of war reporters, Valdez painted our terrible present.
Journalist John Gibler said in a recent interview published by El Pais: “In Mexico, it is infinitely more dangerous to investigate a murder than to commit it”. Would someone dare to contradict him? Criminals take shelter in impunity. Javier Valdez was shot down in plain daylight, he was left in the middle of the street. After shooting twelve times, the hitmen left the place. We cannot say they fled because it doesn’t seem as if they were in any hurry, because they had no need to hide, because they know they are safe. There are no images of the criminals. In downtown Culiacan, one of the bloodiest cities in the country, security cameras do not work. Over 90% are useless. The government has not given them maintenance. Killing calmly, writing in fear.
They rule, Valdez wrote. Silence wins. When he was presented the International Award to Freedom of Press by the Committee for Journalists’ Protection, Javier Valdez spoke of the loneliness of Mexican journalists. It wasn’t the loneliness inherent to the profession, the sound shelter of those who must remain apart from the powers. He spoke of a “macabre” loneliness. It was more an abandonment or rather, a destitution. What we write, risking our lives, is not echoed by society. It remains on the page of a local journal, in a report that only a handful of people read, in the image that is lost in the tedious pornography of the daily blood. The lack of interest, the weariness, the social anxiety have become accomplices of violence. Changing the topic and closing our eyes. Our boldness, therefore, falls into a void, making us even more vulnerable. Valdez knew that indifference cheapens the hunt.
The word that splits shut mouths, the report that is published where so many others are not, the image that shows the horrors is born of the admirable senselessness of a hero. No one is under any obligation to be. A society that needs heroes is a sick society. A healty nation does not ask anyone to put their life on the line, it does not call anyone to sacrifice. But that is what a dying country demands: the monstruosity of heroism.
Is that a country?
Text translated by the Instituto VIF from the original published by Reforma.